Good morning! I’m here today to talk to you about stewardship and why it’s important in our lives. As I began working on this talk, I looked to the lessons for today for guidance, as I had been instructed by Fr. Peter. I read them through once, then I read them again, and then a third time, but I could find nothing that related to stewardship! I prayed over them and read them again. Still nothing. I had all these things I had planned to say but none of them bore any resemblance to these texts. I began getting a little panicky at this point!
Finally, I read them slowly one more time and these words just jumped out at me: “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Now, you folks are surely not the hostile audience Jesus was referring to, and hopefully you are not going to flog me in the synagogue. Rather, my problem was that I was focusing on what I had to say instead of what God wanted me to say.
So I prayed for God to let me know what He wanted me to say and I went back to reading the lessons again with a more open mind. Amazingly, this time I found that this Gospel has much to say about stewardship. You won’t find it talking about tithing, proportional giving or volunteering your time and talent. Instead, we find Jesus challenging his disciples to deliver up their brother to death, to rise against their parents, and to be persecuted for His name’s sake. If we are to be His disciples, we too must be willing to follow in those dangerous footsteps. Most of us have not been persecuted for Jesus and may never be persecuted. However, we must do something just as dangerous. We are called, not just to give away some of our time and money, but rather to give our whole life to God’s service. We must be willing to put ourselves on the line. We must be willing to stand up for Jesus and our Heavenly Father in front of others and the world. And the way we acknowledge Him is by the way we live our lives.
The dictionary defines a steward as one who manages the property or affairs for someone else. If we are stewards of God’s property and affairs, then we are responsible for all that God created and the way it is used. Certainly, we are most responsible for ourselves, a magnificent, unique creation of God. Some of the synonyms for the word steward are represent, embody, act as, exhibit, serve as, speak for, and symbolize. These words imply that we are one with the God we serve and are seen by others as representing Him, embodying him, even speaking for Him. Now that is a humbling and scary thought. This makes me think that Jesus was telling us that being a steward is quite serious business. It is much more than what we give up from our paycheck or our discretionary time. It is the willingness to take on representing God in the world. It is the willingness to make loving and forgiving a way of life. It requires that we acknowledge God before men in all that we say and do, not just with our checkbooks. It means that we must change our lives and put God in charge.
I don’t know about you, but this is a tall order for me. When I first began contemplating giving my life to God, I was very apprehensive at the thought. What if I asked God what He wanted me to do and He said He wanted me to be a missionary in a foreign land or do something I just couldn’t stand doing? It seemed to me that it was better not to ask than to ask and then say “Well, no – I just can’t do that!” But I began thinking about what I would do if I were God. As a manager at IBM, I would always try to assign my employees tasks that they were skilled at and that they would enjoy because they would probably be much happier, more successful and more productive employees. Surely, God is a better manager than I am, so I decided to trust him. And he has never failed me. After all, look where he sent me – to this wonderful church in paradise!!
Making the decision, however, was only the first step. There continued to be many challenges along the way. As some of you know, I’m not too good at letting go of control. And I’m forever stumbling in the loving and forgiving department. No matter that I decided to put God in charge of my life, I always seem to lapse into taking it over, again and again. Fortunately, the issue does not seem to be how well we perform; Jesus tells us in the gospel that it is enough for the servant to be like the master. And certainly the disciples were not perfect. In fact, if we believe what Jesus says, we don’t have to worry about it. If we will only listen, we will know what to say and do. Furthermore, if we ask for help, we will get it.
The real issue, I think, is the “C” word. Are we willing to commit our whole selves? Are we willing to let God into our everyday lives? Are we willing to say no to the soccer league that plays on Sunday morning because our children’s spiritual education is our first priority?
Do we take the time to hear God’s call in our lives – and to answer it? And, once we answer, do we give our whole self to the effort or do we just participate when we feel like it? The song we just sang, “Spirit of the Living God”, puts our answer to God’s call very simply - “melt me, mold me, fill me, use me”. Do we have the courage to be melted, molded, filled – even transformed – for his use? Can we be like the lilies in the field and leave behind our worries about our day to day existence and trust in God’s gentle hand in our lives?
When Joe and I first made the decision to tithe our income, it was with great trepidation. Up until that point, I usually paid the church pledge last, knowing that I wouldn’t have to pay interest on that bill! If I didn’t have enough money that month, I’d just wait and pay 2 payments the next month. Occasionally, that time never came and we skipped a payment. I never even thought about whether my actions would affect the church’s ability to pay its bills! After much soul searching, we finally made the decision that it was time to make a spiritual financial commitment and to make that payment first rather than last. Much to my surprise, from that time on there was always enough money to pay the bills.
Since that time, I have learned all that I know about generosity from God and my extremely generous husband. I had always been generous whenever I had plenty left over after taking care of my needs and those of my family. But now I was beginning to learn about true generosity – give first and it will all come back to you. Joe and I are now on a fixed income and it still amazes me that the money just doesn’t seem to run out if I keep my focus on giving what is needed rather than taking care of my needs first.
Surprisingly, the same principle seems to hold true of giving of my time as well. The more I hoard my time, the less I seem to get done. The more I give of myself and let God do the work rather than trying to control everything myself, the more I seem to be able to do and the more effectively it gets done. Once I gave up what I wanted to say in this sermon and followed God’s lead, it just seemed to write itself. It took much less effort and struggle than it would have with my usual methods.
This brings us to the most difficult question of all, are we willing to live in joy and abundant grace? The biggest surprise in my life is always the abundant joy that fills our life when we hand it all over to God. That is what He has promised – that we will have life and have it more abundantly. But I think it is often much easier for us to live in our struggles and our comfort zone than it is to open ourselves and trust in God’s love and grace. It’s as if we can only stand so much love and so much joy or we will exceed our self-imposed limit! If we could allow that abundance to pour into our lives and our hearts, our lives would be much easier and our loving gifts would flow forth effortlessly in grateful thanks.
As many of you know, our son, Joe, was recently called up to active duty in the Army and is now serving in Afghanistan. When we went down to see him off, he said, once again, how proud he was to be able to serve his country. For me, Joe and all our troops, are the epitome of stewards; they are willing to give their lives to protect our freedom and the freedom of people they don’t even know. God is calling us today to give our lives in His service. May we be as dedicated.